Acts 2:42-47 (New International Version)
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
After retiring in September of 2010 after 25 years in the military as a weather forecaster, I have returned to school to get my teaching certification as a science teacher. Since Texas State does not offer certification in atmospheric science, I went the biology route with the hope of later getting certified in atmospheric science through testing.
I was sitting in a biology lab doing an experiment involving sexual selection and guppies. It involved measuring the amount of time a female guppy spent with male guppies. I'll not bore you with the details, but suffice to say that, there was a lot of waiting around with stop watches. The rest of the class was involved in similar experiments and conversations were going on about movies and the like when someone mentioned pets.
Someone wondered aloud what our dogs and cats must think to which I replied, that beyond eating, sleeping and making kittens and puppies probably not a whole lot, and if anyone thought differently, they need only change the person who fed their pets to see where their pets loyalty/love remained. Now I will allow that there may be more to it that that, but this probably occurs as a matter of socialization than any human like characteristics that the pets have. There was as you might expect, a general outcry, that this one or that one's dog or cat was different and the conversation moved on.
A little while later, after another conversation on the implications of extraterrestrial life on religion, the TA made the statement that she was atheist. Not really a surprise, that a college student would claim to be an atheist. Its the "sexy" position after all, and it fits well with a field of science that proclaims that humans are no different from animals and that who we are and what we are is simply an accident of genetic mutation. Then she started preaching.
Among the many assertions she made was this one. "I just can't believe in a god that has human characteristics." No problem mind you, in believing that the dog or cat may have human characteristics, but unable to believe that God might. The conversation was rich with irony and illogical assertion (pointing to a real need in our churches for catechesis i.e. teaching of the basics of our faith) but for today, I'd like to focus on one point.
When famine struck Armenia during the reign of Maximus, Christians lent assistance to the poor regardless of religious affiliation. Eusebius, the great 4th century ecclesiastical historian, tells us that as a result of the Christian's good example many pagans made inquiry "about a religion whose disciples are capable of such interested devotion." Julian the Apostate, who detested Christianity, complained of Christian kindness toward the poor:
"These impious Galileans not only feed their own poor, but ours also; welcoming them to their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted, with cakes."
The early church institutionalized the care of widows and orphans and saw after the needs of the sick, especially during epidemics. During the pestilences that struck Carthage and Alexandria, Christians earned respect and admiration for the bravery with which they consoled the dying and buried the dead, at a time when the pagans abandoned even their friends to their terrible fate.
The third century bishop and church father Saint Cyprian rebuked the pagan population for not helping the victims of the plague, preferring instead to plunder them. This exhortation of St Cyprian was all the more curious when one considers that this was a time of intermittent persecution of Christians. Meaning the bishop was asking followers to help the very people who had at times persecuted them.
"If we are the children of God...let us prove it by our acts, by blessing those who curse us, and doing good to those who persecute us."
The May 9 New York Times has a wonderful profile of the relief work of the Southern Baptist Convention. As the story notes, the SBC is the third largest private disaster relief organization in the United States, counting 95,000 trained volunteers, one of the most well-organized cohorts of chain saw crews in the world, and mobile command centers that can swing into action with only a few hours’ notice.
The Times story goes on to note the work of the Mennonites, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, and other denominational groups and while it fails to note the religious history of the Red Cross and the outright denominational status of the Salvation Army (the #1 and #2 organizations), one cannot help but be proud to read about selfless, tangible things that are done in the name of Christ and His mercy.
Biology today, tells us we are no different from the animals. According to my biology text, organisms do not act for the good of the species, there is no such thing as a higher or lower animal, a human is no higher than its tapeworm parasites, and we have evolved by natural selection based our ability to gather resources and produce offspring.
Are we no different than Hyenas, who practice sororicide, killing off sisters to insure the head female remains in power? Perhaps we are more akin to Penguins, one of a few animals who seem to care for their young beyond merely giving birth and feeding. Even with Penguins, there is no mercy for sick chicks, and no other penguin parents step in to assist if one parent fails to return from a feeding trip. There is no mercy here.
Maybe my biology TA was right. that it makes no sense to believe in a God with human characteristics. Perhaps in the end, what we think of as human characteristics are instead, characteristics of God."
Why? Because these early believers had an encounter with the living God who told them and showed them, that loving God meant sacrificial loving. Loving neighbors - even when it made no sense, even when it was inconvenient, even when it was costly, even if it meant thinking of themselves as a distant second..
When we are born, we are self centered narcissists, we believe the world revolves around us. Left to our own devices we will remain that way. Thank God, he has not left us to our own devices. He has offered us another way, his way, the way of the cross. By emptying ourselves in service to Jesus Christ we can partake in one of God's greatest gifts; As we look back at the incarnation- the virgin birth, the life and suffering, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, we, like the early Christians, see that in Christ, God has shown us what it is to be true God and more importantly, what it was to be truly human.